Hello, stranger: For perhaps the past forty years, the late Mike Seeger was our favorite performer of any kind. It was never easy to explain why that was; Bob Dylan explained it as best he could in 2004, in Chronicles: Volume 1. In that memoir, Dylan gave Seeger the most remarkable tribute weve ever seen a performer receive. If we take Dylans memoir at face value, Seegers brilliance as a performer changed the course of music historyin the early 1960s!
At several points in the past few years, weve tried to smuggle a profile of Seeger into THE HOWLERs pages. (Pete Seeger was his half-brother.) Each time, we decided not to post what wed written. Well plan to profile Seeger this Friday. Though he wasnt a political or topical performer, we think his virtues are quite instructive for the current state of liberal politics.
In todays obit in the New York Times, a quotation is given from Dylans book. But the Times skips Dylans most remarkable tribute. The Times writes this: Seeger's dedication had a strong effect on the young Bob Dylan, who wrote fondly of him in his 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume One. Thats a bit like saying that Mark, Luke and John wrote fondly of Jesus Christ.
And no, it wasnt Seegers dedication which Dylan praised in his book.
Fumbling for an explanation, Dylan used the word telepathy at one point to explain what Seeger had. We wouldnt say that was quite the right word, but it gets us into the ball park. We liberals might win a debate some dayif we copy what Seeger did have. What made Mike Seeger so great? Quoting Dylans startling tribute at length, well plan to expound on Friday.
Mara Liasson, soft on crime: Theres nothing wrong with bussing people to a town hall meeting. There is something wrong with disrupting such meetings, as some people did in some cases last week. But many journalists found it quite hard to observe that distinction over the weekend. On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace sketched the distinction quite clearly. But Mara Liasson seemed a bit soft on crime:
WALLACE (8/9/09): Let me just bring up with you, Mara, as I discussed with Senator McConnell. And I think everybody agrees that there's no difference between the right organizing in this case or the left organizing against George W. Bush and the Iraq war.
But conservative groups have been putting out instructions on the Internet about how to take over the meetingstand up, shout, rattle the Congressmen. Anything wrong with that?
LIASSON: No, there's nothing wrong with it. What it means is probably for members of Congress the town hall becomes a less useful vehicle to find out what their constituents are thinking.
I do think that even though there is real anger out there at what people perceive to be the bill, which right now is just the House bill, and the supportthe supporters of the president's health care effort have been remarkably unorganizedand I think there's a reason for that.
I think the White House is the victim of its own strategy. I mean, this is why they wanted two bills by now. Right now there's only one bill. It's the House bill. And it has the public option in it.
There's no alternative to that, and the public option is what's driving a lot of this anger. It's kind of the stand-in for what they call socialized medicine. And the defenders aren't defending anything specific. And that, I think, is one of the problems.
What a remarkable answer! Is there something wrong with standing up, shouting, taking over a public meeting? No, theres nothing wrong with it, Mara haplessly said.
Have Dems overplayed this hand? Quite possible. But earlier in this same program, even McConnell had been willing to state the obvious:
MCCONNELL: Look, I don't think either side ought to be trying to engage in disrupting meetings, either the Democrat side or the Republican side. We ought to focus on the issue.
McConnell suggested that both sides are doing it. But even he was willing to state the obviousits wrong to disrupt public meetings.
Liasson was hardly alone this weekend. All over the weekend shows, we saw journalists having a very hard time articulating this obvious point. But Liasson comes from NPR. At NPR, theyre still soft on crime.
Who else had a problem with this distinction? How about a leading progressive? Read on:
Ana Marie Cox, just appalled: When Darling Rachel wants to insult average people, she calls in Ana Marie Cox (real name). Cox has been a regular guest on the Maddow Show, our progressive news program.
Yesterday, Howard Kurtz asked Cox, several times, about the town hall disruptions. This was her first exposition:
KURTZ (8/9/09): Ana Marie Cox, Mark Halperin says this is a breakdown in the media culture. But we couldn't not cover these people, and they do have a right to be heard, don't they?
COX: Right, they do. And I actually do not think it's a breakdown of democracy. I think that it's a wonderful expression of democracy. I'm not sure if they're AstroTurfed or not myself. I think they probably aren't, but I think that's almost a worse sign for the Republican Party.
Obviously, people have a right to be heard. Halperin had suggested that people dont have a right to deliberately disrupt public meetings. The distinction was lost on Coxbut she soon got a second bite at the apple. Alas! In response to a second question, she still couldnt see the distinction:
HALPERIN: If these protesters have ideas, great. Let's hear them. But if they are just stunts to cause a disruption that gets the media tripped in every time, again, I think it's bad for the country, whether you want the president's plan or not.
KURTZ: OK. Just stunts, Ana Marie Cox? We love stunts in the media.
COX: I love stunts! And also, I mean, I don't agree with whatthe kind of things these protesters are saying. But I'm appalled that Mark is calling it something other than what it is, which is a raw democracy.
Cox was appalledand Cox loves stunts! We noticed that love last April, when Cox engaged in a week-long stunt, insulting average people on the Maddow Show. While Darling Rachel pretended to be embarrassed, of course.
Back then, we were told how stupid those tea-baggers were. Progressives, just gaze on your brilliant analyst now! Have Dems overplayed the disruption angle? Thats possiblemore on that topic starting tomorrow. But Ana Marie seems to think that disruption is simply divine!
Alas! As they shied away from the worlds most obvious distinction, Cox and Liasson helped you see what your press corps has long since become. One scribe is soft on crimeand one gets high on stunts.
Special report! Getting your keister kicked!
PART 1HE TO WHOM YOUR LEADERS FAWN: Dday was probably wrong on one minor point (click here). Almost surely, Lois Romano will live to appear on Hardball another day.
But dday was right on the big issue here; when Chris Matthews discussed health care reform with Romano on July 29, his performance was simply appalling. Indeed, the discussion which occurred that night helps explain why liberal keisters are now getting kicked in the ongoing health care discussion.
All week, well discuss some of the ways your keister is getting kicked.
Romano is one of the sanest Villagers. Plainly, Matthews isnt. On this particular July evening, he seemed to buy the idea that House Democrats have proposed some version of National Snuff Care. Matthews played tape of North Carolina congresswoman Virginia Foxx, implying that the current House bill will put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government. Matthews played tape of Foxxs disgraceful claimthen launched some nonsense of his own. But then, Matthews has produced this kind of cracked pottery for at least the past dozen years:
MATTHEWS (7/29/09): Thats how hot its getting. Lois Romano, Jonathan Martin. Lois, your thoughts about this debate. Its a provision in the Energy and Commerce version of the health care billin the Energy and Commerce Committee. It was put in this provision by Earl Blumenauer from Oregon. There it stands. Its a provision which allows you to get counseling every five years or so.
I wonder what the hell this provision is doing in a bill thats aimed at people who are younger? Its not about Medicare recipients, people over 65. Why we would want to be visited every five years by somebody to talk about how you want to die? I think its crazy this is in there! Your thoughts?
ROMANO: Its not in there.
MATTHEWS: It is in there! Its in the bill! Its in the Dingell bill!
ROMANO: Chris, first of all, its an extension of a 1999 bill that was enacted during the Bush administration. And its a self-determination, a patients rights bill. All it really says is that Medicare will pay if somebody wants to go in and have a consultation. It doesnt say you have to have a consultation.
I think its crazy this is in there, Matthews roared. Then he asked his guest for her thoughts.
Matthews rarely talks policy. When he does, he rarely knows what hes talking about. Most often, he has ingested some nugget of consummate nonsense at some insider cocktail party; this results in the type of misinformed outburst Matthews indulged in this night. On this occasion, Matthews had apparently heard something about being visited every five years by somebody to talk about how you want to die. In fact, that somebody would actually be your doctor; unless house calls have come back in fashion, you would likely be visiting him. To state what is even more blindingly obvious, such consultations already occur. Under present rules, Medicare doesnt pay for such sessions; under the new proposal, Medicare would payfor one such consultation every five years.
And yes, the proposal to which Matthews referred would be part of the Medicare program. As he continued,. Matthews made it blindingly obvious that he didnt have the first idea what he was talking about. To anyone who has watched Matthews down through the years, none of what follows should be surprising. But to this blindingly misinformed host, the deeply upsetting House proposal surely meant something like this:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Its not about Medicare, Lois! We already have that in Medicare! This is about people under 65, younger people. This is not about Medicare. We`ve got it inyoure saying that. This is about a health care bill to help people in their middle and younger years. Why would you have this conversation with them?
ROMANO: I think its basically to give patients some rights. They want to go in and have a conversation. It`s about a living will, as Obama said. Its about making choices, about being prepared, you knowI think most people would opt to use it if they were ill. I dont think you and I, healthy, would go in and say, Can we talk how Im going to die in 20 years if something happens? I think its Youre talking about a personsay theyre under 65. Say theyre 45 and theyre dying and they just want to go and have a consultation.
MATTHEWS: This is on a regular recurring basis.
ROMANO: But its not mandated, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Its not mandated. Whats it doing in there? I just have a sense this was put in by a lobbyist who wanted this in for hospice care. Somebody pushed this in there. Its the kind of social policy dynamite that sounds like Denmark or Scandinavia. Its that kind of mind-set that drives a lot of moderates and conservatives crazy.
As usual, Matthews had a senseaccompanied by a complete lack of knowledge. For her part, Romano didnt seem all that clear herself; she seemed to retreat from her accurate statement that this is a proposal for coverage under Medicare. But the discussion continued on from hereand got worse. As usual, Matthews didnt know what he was talking about. But he talked about it anywayvery loud.
Lets repeat: On this evening, Matthews played tape of Rep. Foxx seeming to claim that the House bill would put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government. Without quite asserting that Foxx was right, Matthews loudly blundered ahead, talking about the kind of social policy dynamite that sounds like Denmark or Scandinavia. He didnt quite say that Foxx was rightbut he sure as hell didnt say she was wrong. Before he finished, our disgraceful buffoon was actually saying this:
MATTHEWS: Lois, the concern I have is that something that can be handled by filling out a form, that somebody can handle for a minuscule amount of money. And were talking about a trillion dollar bill here. And somebody put in a provision, which is a nice, useful handle for somebody to say, Weve got social policy here and the lefties cant wait for us to start telling old people, well, its going to cost a lot of money for you to live, so maybe you ought to be doing this other thing.
Were not quite sure what that meant either. But remember: Matthew didnt even know that this proposal affects Medicare payments. He seemed to think that younger people would be visited every five years by somebody to talk about how [they] want to die.
What kind of country allows someone like that to sit at the top of its national discourse? Easy! The kind of country whose liberal leaders want to get famous on Hardball!
Matthews is paid $5 million per year, by GE, to conduct himself in this manner. He has behaved this way for well over a decade; he did astounding harm to American interests in the latter part of the Clinton-Gore years. But so what? Liberal intellectual leaders kiss his fat ass right up to the present day. They want to play some Hardball too! Its wonderful for their careers!
Guess what, liberals! You will never have a progressive politics as long as your leaders do this. In part, youre getting your keisters kicked right now because your leaders have spent the past dozen years locking their lips around the fat asses of big career-makers like Matthews. Liberal journals and liberal leaders have never published a serious critique of the work Matthews has done through the years. In part for that reason, you are now getting your keisters kicked around pretty hard.
For the record, Matthews currently plays, by and large, on the pro-Obama team. This brings him in line with the business decisions of his cable channel and corporate ownersthe people who pay him those millions. So sure enough! Within a few days, Matthews had changed his tune on this particular health care proposal. By last week, he was adopting a quite different tone about those every-five-year consultations.
But even then, Matthews refused to behave like an actual journalist. As early as last Tuesday night, the gent was back on Obamas side. But he was still engaging in nightly exchanges like the one which follows, with Jeanne Cummings of Politico.
Lets go to the issues that get people heated up, Matthews said as he began. As he proceeds, he is now saying nice things about the proposal in question. But do you mind if we note an important point? To all appearances, Matthews still hasnt examined the part of the bill he inquires about in this passage:
MATTHEWS (8/4/09): Lets go to the issues that get people heated up. It`s not just the cost of the program because were not clear about that. It`s not even on the tax impact. We dont know that. Its about some of these cultural issues, these wedge issues. For example, the word is out on the street that government employees are going to come to you and tell you to stop wasting Medicare money, stop wasting your familys money, get with this pull-the-plug program. That seems to be the way theyre selling it on the right, Jeanne, that people are going to come to you rather ghoulishly and tell you, you know, Youve become a burden, stop charging up all this health care cost, tell us to pull the plug on you. I mean, it sounds awful, but that is the message getting out there to a lot of people.
CUMMINGS: Well, certainly, they have taken parts of the plan and distorted some of them. Some of them are legitimate concerns that some seniors have that some health care procedures may not be available to them late in life. But the one that they have really distorted is one that revolves around hospice care. And what, basically, that is, is studies have shown is if seniors write down a much more detailednot just a living will but real directives about what kind of care that they want
CUMMINGS: that then their wishes will be complied with. And many timeswhat they have found in states that do this a lot better than it`s done nationally, is that many times, people dont want to die in an ICU unit, they want to die at home with their family. And clearly
MATTHEWS: Right. Im with you on that. I think, fair enough, that most people would be smart to make these declarations clear so that their relatives don`t have to make the decisions, like in the Schiavo case, where the whole country got involved. Senators got involved. Members of Congress were legislating on the floor what to do with this poor woman when she was in that state. We were all looking at pictures of it. To avoid that, the person themselves has to make it clear.
But Jeanne, the question is, does somebody come to you and aggressively say to you, Look, these are the options, or do you look at a form somewhere, like we all should do, look at our insurance policy and say, Somewhere in here you can have this paid for, this consultation? Is it aggressive or is it passive?
The word is out on the street that government employees are going to come to you and tell you to...get with this pull-the-plug program, Matthews clownishly said. Gee! We cant imagine how word like that ever got out on the street!
As you can see, Matthews had largely flipped his position by last Tuesday night. By now, it was clear that he was no longer promoting the ghoulish view he describes here. But good God! Matthews was still simply asking his guests if the proposal in question is aggressive or passive. There was no sign that Matthews himself had actually read the provision in question (Section 1233 of the House bill). Nor has Matthews ever explained the text of this provision to his Hardball audience. That would require researchand actual knowledge. In the world of modern pseudo-journalism, multimillionaire tools like Matthews simply dont play that game.
Matthews has never explained that proposal to viewersright to this very day.
All last week, Matthews kept asking his journalist guests to explain what Section 1233 meant. He never showed any sign of having examined the proposal himself. And by the way: Journalists often give very weak answers to questions about provisions like these. In this exchange, Cummings did a fairly good job of saying that Section 1233 has been really distorted. But why doesnt Matthews himself ever tell his viewers what Section 1233 says?
Well guess that you dont have to ask.
This has transpired for more than a dozen years. In 1999 and 2000, Matthews massacred your interests. But so what? Liberal leaders still kiss this mans ass, so eager are they to get famous too. In part, youre currently getting your keister kicked behind such long-running misconduct.
TomorrowPart 2: We see racists.